MANY Malaysians pursue degrees to please their parents. For sure, getting a business degree, for example, is a pretty safe bet. With such a degree you could get a corporate job with a steady income. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy.
Like many people, Emily Lau pursued a business degree because her parents felt that that was the best ticket for a decent job.
After graduation, Lau entered corporate life and did well in the field of marketing. But deep inside, she yearned to do something else. Unlike many people, she actually did something about it.
She quit her job, enrolled in a cooking course and proceeded to embark on a career in private dining, which is a growing trend in urban areas around the world.
Although she’s still finding her footing in this brave new world she’s entering, Lau confides that she has never been happier and is looking forward to a future in food.
WHAT KIND OF CORPORATE WORK DID YOU DO?
I worked in sales and marketing for many multinational corporations like Nestle, Danone, Etika and F&N Dairies. The experience I gained from working in these MNCs was invaluable but my heart was in cooking.
IF YOU COULD DO YOUR UNIVERSITY STUDIES ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU HAVE STUDIED CULINARY INSTEAD?
Yes or even pursued my passions in singing, acting and music. But back then, I took the safe route and did a business degree. I believe this is a common story among Malaysians. After working in the corporate world for 12 years, I felt it was time to really pursue my passion. That’s why I signed up for a diploma course at Le Cordon Bleu in London.
SINCE YOU WERE ALREADY A PRETTY GOOD SELF-TAUGHT COOK, COULDN’T YOU HAVE CONTINUED TO TEACH YOURSELF COOKING TECHNIQUES THROUGH YOUTUBE, COOKBOOKS, ETC?
I taught myself a lot of cooking skills but I also wanted to learn proper cooking techniques. Going to a top-notch cooking school and learning from the best chefs are experiences that can’t be compared to learning how to cook through cookbooks and online lessons.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE AT LE CORDON BLEU IN LONDON?
The six-month intensive course in Le Cordon Bleu London gave me a taste of how working in a real-life commercial kitchen feels like. I always felt that living on my own in London would inspire me in my culinary journey and it did. It broadened my horizon and gave me some new perspectives in life. Most importantly, it allowed me to become a happier person.
DID YOU ALWAYS LOVE COOKING?
Yes. I recall even from the age of 5, I was always curious whenever my dad, who is an excellent cook, was preparing something in the kitchen. Growing up, the kitchen was my favourite place in the house.
YOU OBVIOUSLY LOVE FOOD BUT WHICH ACTIVITY DO YOU LOVE MORE: EATING OR COOKING?
That’s a tough one. I love eating and I love cooking. But if I had to pick, I’d say eating comes first. Once I try something nice, I then try to figure out how to cook it or create something new based on it. But eating comes first. I have to be excited about a dish to want to cook it.
ASIAN OR WESTERN COOKING?
Again, I love both but perhaps I love Asian a little bit more. I especially love hot and spicy food. But I’m quite a food adventurer and I’m into anything that can titillate my taste buds.
WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE TV CHEF?
Many people would say Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver but my favourite is Martin Yan. My first exposure to a TV cooking programme was Yan Can Cook back in the 1990s, when I was still in primary school. I was attracted to his recipes, his personality and the way he hosted his TV show. I admired how he was able to spread interest in Chinese cuisine all over the world. When I looked at him, I felt it was possible for someone to do something big based on their passion.
HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED A CAREER AS A CELEBRITY CHEF?
Of course I’d never rule out something like that for the future but right now, I’ve only just started my professional culinary career. Becoming a celebrity chef would be a dream. I’m not sure how I could get there but I believe it starts with me focusing on doing what I love most and doing it right. I’m confident the rest will eventually all fall into place.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO PRIVATE DINING?
The genesis of this can actually be traced back to my student days in Australia. I actually offered a daily in-house dinner service for fellow Malaysians who wanted good, home-cooked food. Looking back, I’m sure the success of that little business gave me the confidence to quit my corporate job to do private dining.
WHY PRIVATE DINING AS OPPOSED TO WORKING IN A RESTAURANT?
Private dining or underground supper club is a modern trend that’s popular in urban areas. I set up Emily’s Kitchen to provide a food-tasting platform for those who are open enough to try this new dining concept. I’ll decide on the menu and it’s usually crafted based on a seven-, eight- or nine-course meal concept.
ARE YOU DOING THIS ALONE OR IN COLLABORATION WITH OTHERS?
Right now it’s just me. Actually, the original idea was for a few friends to get together and do this but somehow, that never came to pass. I guess it wasn’t easy for people to quit their jobs or perhaps they had family commitments, etc. So, I decided to go at it alone.
HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PRIVATE DINING CHEFS IN THE COUNTRY?
I see myself as being a service-oriented chef. My main aim is to provide a total dining experience to my guests so I pay great attention to detail even when I’m cooking just for friends and family. My guests are always delighted with the taste of the food but also the table settings, the ambience and the overall dining experience that I give them. So it’s really not just about the food.